What if all these answers we’ve been given all our lives, in church, by our families, by well-meaning people, what if even SOME of them are wrong? What if we don’t have it all figured out? Then what?
I am learning to find God in the questions. And in asking the questions, I'm finding myself, too.
The Sound of Silence
We’re surrounded with too much noise. There are too many answers being thrown at us by people who have had also answers shoved down their throats all their lives, but we’ll never know the truth until we shut up and listen to the God inside. Mother Theresa said it, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence...”
The problem is, when I get silent, I have a lot of questions. Does that happen to you? Do you have brilliant ideas in the shower, like me? Are you able to solve the world’s problems during your daily commute? Do you journal and find answers in the questions you ask yourself? If so, you’re in great company.
Here’s a few of my questions...
What the hell?
I have struggled for the better part of a decade with my beliefs around Hell as a place of eternal damnation. A few years ago, I read a book called Four Views on Hell, where four theologians present their best arguments on their perspective of Hell. I’ve read the Bible. I’ve completed two years of ministry school. And I still don’t know what I believe about Hell. But I’m leaning strongly toward Hell not being a place that was ever created (if it actually exists) to punish God’s children.
I grew up in the Pentecostal movement. In my teenage years, I was prayed for to receive “the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues.” I’ll never forget the lady with a greyed bun on top of her head the size of a Cadillac hub cap. She told me to raise my hands and ask God to fill me with the holy spirit. Apparently God wasn’t moving fast enough, and she told me to begin to say whatever came to mind, as she simultaneously took hold of my lower jaw and began to force it to flap open and shut.
In all fairness, my experience with a “prayer language” in the years since has been precious at times. Even so, I have still always doubted it. There are times when I believed I had a “God experience” when there were no other words to pray. I’ve experienced times when I was so desperate that all I could do was babble and cry. And I don’t mean this offensive at all. I have prayed earnestly “in tongues” during some truly horrible moments and I’ve meant it and wanted to believe it so badly.
But I still have days when I wonder if I’m crazy.
What do you think about God’s plan? Do you fall under the assumption of freewill or predestination or somewhere in between? Are we just a bunch of marionette puppets? Are we robots? Does God have it planned out that I will take the backroads instead of the interstate today because of some horrendous tragedy that will occur on my typical morning route? And if that is true, did God orchestrate the tragedy on the interstate? What kind of all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God is that?
Or, if it’s all just free will, if it’s all just happenstance, then how powerful is God after all?
These are the things I think and never say. They are the questions I ponder and rarely speak of. Partly because I’m scared to death to be labeled a heretic (but I think it’s too late for that). The other reason I held my tongue for so long is because every time I have asked those questions to any pastor or spiritual leader (except for one really great guy), I have felt their judgement burning through my skin.
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I think I’m starting to understand what Paul was talking about when he penned these words in Galatians 2:19-21:
My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
These days, I have far more questions that I have answers. And part of that is scary as hell (if that’s even real). But the other side of owning my questions seems so freeing. I don’t know you, but I would bet every dime I have in the bank that you have questions too. I bet that if you’ve lived very long, if you’ve suffered just a little, if you’ve had hard times, if you’ve been pushed aside, if you’ve had people try to tell you exactly how you should live your life and what you should believe, I bet you have secret questions and doubts too.
For the Bible Tells Me So
There are many stories in the Bible that I doubt ever really happened. I know there’s a school of thought that says several of those stories never actually happened, that they were fables or myths, intended to teach a lesson. But not actual historical events. Oftentimes, I struggle with that, especially when it comes to what I want taught to my kids.
Watch Your Mouth!
I cringe around “the blood of Jesus” (it will never lose it’s power, right?). I struggle with praying prayers around my non-Christian friends that end with things like, “in the blood of Jesus, amen.”. I absolutely believe in the finished work of the cross and am extremely grateful for it, but some of this churchy lingo really has the potential to freak out newcomers to the faith or visitors to the church. Am I wrong for feeling this way? Do you feel that way too?
[clickToTweet tweet="I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it. -Brennan Manning #graceismessy" quote="My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it. -Brennan Manning" theme="style3"]
Get Right or Get Left
I struggle with witnessing and evangelism, when it’s done like it was when I was a kid. Turn or burn! Deep down, I have this knowing that God will ultimately bring us all back to Himself. I can’t get past this strong sense in the deepest part of me that God is all-loving. And if I had to choose all-knowing, all-powerful, or all loving, I choose the latter.
Why? Because I have royally fucked up more times than I care to count, but I know that there is a Spirit, a Being greater than anything I can imagine Who embraces me as I am, and always has. I don’t think there is some white-bearded Celestial Santa Claus, making a list and checking it twice, expecting me to follow all the rules, red tape, regulations, and bullshit of religion in order to be fully loved and accepted. For the longest time, I lived in fear that if I didn’t cross every “t” and dot every “I’, I wouldn’t see God.
I think God’s ultimate desire for our lives is what Jesus described as the crux of the Gospel: to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, to love our neighbors the best we possibly can, and - the hardest one of all - to love ourselves. So that when we have royally fucked up we can say, I am not a finished product. I am constantly growing, evolving, changing, learning, and in all of that, I will screw up, but I know that God loves me because I am learning to love myself.
[clickToTweet tweet="It is better to travel well than to arrive. -Buddha #graceismessy" quote="It is better to travel well than to arrive. -Buddha #graceismessy" theme="style3"]
I don’t really offer any answers today. I think many of us are tired of people who always seem to have the answer. This is a confessional and an invitation to dialogue. I am going to start openly asking more questions, not for the sake of controversy, but because of my desperate desire to have conversation with people might also be ready for it. And I know from reading and listening to people like Paul Young and Rob Bell and the Holy Heretics, that by asking those hard questions, there is a greater chance to be shunned by those who ascribe to the way things have always been. Peace to them. For me, this is only the beginning.
- I Don't Need to Be Saved
- Why I Want Faith Like Water
- It Sucks to be a Christian Right Now
- Confessions of a Ministry School Dropout
- Why Being a 90's Kid in the Church was Scary as Hell